Since we live in a nation where two of every three American adults and more than one in six children and adolescents are overweight, we certainly see our fair share of fat. It goes by many pet names, too, including beer bellies, love handles, pot bellies, thunder thighs or too much junk in the trunk.
No matter what we call it or how much fun we poke at it, the truth is that fat may just have the last laugh on us if we don’t do something about it. It’s really not that funny at all and may even contribute to some serious health implications.
You may be familiar with one form of fat known as subcutaneous fat. It’s the fat that's right under your skin and is the kind of fat measured with body fat calipers to give an estimate of total body fat.
But not all fat is only skin deep. Visceral fat, on the other hand, is buried beneath the muscles and surrounds the vital organs.
These two types of body fat act differently in the body, too, according to experts. Tim Church, medical director of the Cooper Institute in Dallas, Texas says, "If you put visceral fat in a Petri dish and you put subcutaneous fat in a Petri dish and stimulate them, the visceral fat will produce a lot more inflammatory molecules that can raise a person's risk of heart disease and diabetes."
A major contributor to this threatening visceral fat is found in the omentum. It’s a fatty layer of tissue located inside the belly that hangs underneath the muscles in your stomach and drapes over the stomach.
Excess fat and inflammatory chemicals stored in the omentum are harbored as a “beer belly” and can go directly into the liver via the portal vein—causing a toxic dump in the body.
Additionally, a fat-padded omentum may cause bad cholesterol and triglyceride levels to increase and also take insulin out of circulation in the body, contributing to blood sugar imbalances. Since the omentum is near the internal organs, it can subject them to damage, too.
But wait…there’s more. As you store fat, fat cells usually increase in size, not number—at least for most folks. The exceptions may be those who gain a lot of weight and those who have liposuction.
Trim adults have about 40 billion fat cells, but an overweight person may have two to three times that amount. Here’s why: if a person continues to overeat, fat cells continue to grow. When they reach their expansion limit, they don’t divide. Instead, they signal nearby immature cells to start dividing to create more fat cells.
As fat cells get larger, they also produce cytokines, which increase the body’s inflammation levels. If those fat cells increase in size to the point at which they burst open, then even more cytokines are released, causing more inflammation.
In short, excess fat and fat cells are chemical factories that secrete toxic hormones and other harmful substances straight into the bloodstream. This can cause adverse effects on metabolism, weight and overall health—which certainly is no laughing matter.